My best advice for Valentine’s Day: Cook at home! It’s one of the worst nights of the year to eat out — the staff can be overwhelmed, diners are often tense with inflated expectations, and limited cookie-cutter prix fixe menus can suck the life and spontaneous fun out of a good restaurant.
That said, the day is fraught with danger if you don’t have a solid dinner plan. This year, I have a spicy marinara in the works that has a date with some seafood and linguine (my proposal meal from 20-plus years ago — still a good move).
If I weren’t able to cook at home, I’d aim to zig away from the big obvious names in Center City for more interactive food adventures farther afield. I’m thinking of something exotic and shareable, like the charcoal-grilled Malaysian skewers at Saté Kampar on East Passyunk, or a hot volcanic molcajete bowl of amor at one of my favorite South Philly Mexican spots (Blue Corn, Mole Poblano, Los Gallos, to name a few), or maybe a hands-on injera feast at one of the good Ethiopian destinations in West Philly, like Abyssinia (229 S. 45th St.). When you two meet in the middle of that big table-size crepe over a mound of spicy kitfo, it’ll be time to go home.
I love the idea of a sushi meal, too, because there is nothing more sensual than sushi. But also, few things are more festive than sharing a big pan of paella. Try one in the upstairs dining room at Tio Pepe on Castor Avenue, one of the hidden gems I came across in my journey through Northeast Philly. Or maybe an Uzbek lamb fest among the cushions and floor-to-ceiling kilims at Suzani.
There’s a world of options out there.
However, I’d be very cautious about going the heart-shaped pizza route. I had a tip from a regular on my chat that South Philly’s Pesto Pizzeria makes a solid heart pie. It’s an independent I’ve not tried, though it’s connected to Ristorante Pesto, which I’ve enjoyed. I’ve seen too many “sad heart pizza” memes over the last year, though, to even think of ordering such a thing from a chain. If you call in a Valentine’s dinner from Domino’s or Papa John’s and are surprised to find a lopsided ovoid of greasy goo and crust when you open the box, you deserve what you get. (Talk about food as metaphor for a relationship!)
But I’m lucky. My wife always says, “If you’re with the person you want to be with, it doesn’t matter where you go.” So I should be golden no matter what I do, right? As long as I have a plan ….